D&D Next and Me Me Me

Looks like the shoe is firmly on the other foot now.

Dungeons and Dragons

D&D Next: A step in the right direction

Maybe I’ve been tainted with by 37Signal’s design methodology Getting Real.
Maybe I’m seeing the writing on the wall.
Maybe I’m tired of arguments about scope and default stance.
Maybe I’m just not as much of a lazy/selfish grognard as I thought.

Or maybe I’m just not getting it.

Default Play

I’ve been following a few blogs and online discussions about D&D Next, and I’m seeing an interesting trend develop.

The most vehement and vociferously discussed issue brought up about D&D Next seems to be the complaint that it fails to simulate the low-power, gritty and deadly environment of a 1st level OSR game – such as B/X D&D, C&C, LL, etc.

The argument is that D&D Next sets a 1st level character at an advantage far beyond those of a your run-of-the-mill 1st level OSR character.

4E: The beginning of the end

4E Dungeons and Dragons

4E D&D: the MMORPG

What’s more, this isn’t a new issue; 4E D&D did this as well with 1st level 4E characters being more akin to 4th level characters in previous versions of the game. And perhaps the claim (in the rules and presentation of 4E) that “this is how low-level D&D should be played”  is actually what’s generating the knee-jerk reactions to the 1st level characters being a bit beefed-up from average, everyday, standard-issue humans.

I’ve been in this camp for various reasons myself, so I’m not entirely blameless in this discussion. Suffice to say I’m of the opinion that levels are outdated and pointless, but that’s not the point of this discussion either.

But today, as I re-read through the arguments and counter-arguments, I found myself in a bit of a different place and I invite you to survey the landscape from here.

How I got there

Keeping the discussion to D&D and D&D clones, consider the following:

  • All those who want gritty, low level play a lá the OSR have LL, C&C, and virtually every other incarnation of D&D (besides 4E.)
  • While those who want For Epic hero, just add Water style play, there’s 4E.
  • Alternately, should you want to play Epic hero in a OSR style rule-set, GMs are told the consensus methodology to increase power scope of characters, one simply needs to increase the starting level of said characters. Besides, that’s been the way to do it for years now.

For a good part of my D&D life, I’ve been firmly ensconced in knowing that’s the way the game is played.

But should it be?

Shattering the dream

But here’s where that reality was shattered…

Everyone who says, “Just increase the level to 4 to achieve the game you want to play” is opening themselves up to counter-arguments of, “Just decrease the level to 0 to achieve the style of game you want to play.”

What’s more, those arguments could (could mind you, not should) also be framed as, “Why don’t you just go play [insert retro clone name here]?”

Of course those arguments are usually followed with, “Because I want to play D&D!”

And the whole thing spirals.

A good run

For over 34 years, those who wanted to run a low power game had rules back them up as the default mode, catering to that very style of play.

And while I’ll agree WotC went too far in trying to remove that style of play in 4E, I honestly believe they’ve come back just far enough in D&D Next to regain me as a fan.

Granted this may change since we’re only in a play test, but for now I’m satisfied with where I see the system headed. – KO

But 4E left the barn door open and things are not likely to ever be the same again.

I’m not privy to the internal polling and market numbers, but I’d wager that many customers of WotC want to play something with a more MMO slant. 4E is evidence of that very trend and WotC isn’t likely to do too much to lose those customers any more than they’d willingly lose those wanting to play OSR clones.

But I see the writing on the wall now very clearly. And as a result, I expect that D&D Next will probably hold on to a few of those up shifting elements the developers discovered people have accepted and even clamored for.

Additionally, I suspect the nature of the changes in 4E were right in line with where the R&D team at WotC would like to see D&D go. And while I tilted at those windmills in the past, I’m done with my righteous indignation.

Instead, today I’m thinking that’s not really something I consider a big deal and I’m not the slightest bit concerned. Because if D&D Next turns into another 4E, I’ll probably just use my knowledge to turn the clock back for my group.

I did that for 4E; taking the things I liked about 4E and applying them to my D&D games and dumping all that I didn’t care for.

Likely more capable

And that very realization is what surprises me about those most vocal about the tract D&D seems to be taking. Virtually everyone I see complaining that D&D Next doesn’t cater to their style of play has been playing D&D for (my guess) most of D&D’s lifespan and has countless times discussed how to change or alter the rules.

So where’s the initiative?
Where’s that entrepreneurial spirit with which so many Old School DMs were empowered and vested?
Where are the system hacks and house rules?
Where are the “in my D&D game we…”  discussions?

I thought Old School was about rulings, not rules.
Or was I wrong?

Options galore

Want a lower scope play? Shift the rules.
Want to simulate a gritty environment? Then do so.

Want D&D Next to be a Retro Clone? Not likely to happen.
And it’s not even necessary.
Because at the end of the day you could just go play [insert retro clone name here.]

So maybe I’m seeing the writing on the wall.
Maybe I’m tired of arguments about scope and default stance.
Maybe I’m just not as much of a lazy/selfish grognard as I thought.

Or maybe I’m just not getting it.

Care to enlighten me on where I’ve gotten it all wrong?

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5 Responses to D&D Next and Me Me Me

  1. Todd says:

    I think the thing is that people are being asked for their opinion. If I’m asked for my opinion on how I’d like to see D&D and say I like low level play and then a bunch of other people shout me down – well then screw them. Yes I can mod the game and yes I can play older versions. But the thing is I’m being asked what I want out of D&D next to bring me back into the fold and part of that dialogue for me is how does it support low level play. If the answer is – not well you need to mod it – well then I won’t be bothering. I’ll play something else. No need to argue or anything because there is no ‘right’ opinion, you asked and I told you.

  2. justaguy says:

    Been thinking on it and I don’t know that you need to be enlightened, really. People who are getting all “GRA! ME HATE!” about 5e are kinda missing the point. I’ve only played a single session so far, but to me it felt very… 3e like, with some 4e stuff put on top and some nods at older stuff.

    The character sheets themselves have notes to “Ignore backgrounds and themes for a more old school feel”. And without the “Slayer” theme the fighter no longer has that damage on a miss power, it’s not an integral Fighter ability. The Hit Die healing thing is easily ignored, as it’s not tied to anything else really.

    So, yeah… I think a reasonable approach is a good thing 😛

  3. Kevin says:

    Good points Todd – and I don’t disagree with the approach.
    WotC wants feedback for sure, and how the system works to bring players back into (or retain them in) the fold is an important piece to the Grand Unified D&D plan.

    However, I think it comes down to default play.
    And from what I see, those who for over 30 years (myself included) have stood by the tried and true method and claim that, “If you want to start above suck, then just start at a higher level” are finding themselves on the other side of the argument once more (see 4E for reference material) and are being very vocal about it.

    Were the discussion to stop there, I’d be satisfied with all the angst over the current iteration of D&D.
    But the additional pieces (as pointed out by justaguy) to this discussion, where removing/ignoring some simple rules, appears to me to put the game squarely in the camp of Retro D&D material.
    And since the OSR crowd (again myself included) has always held ourselves as the champions of system hacks and house-rules, I find it a bit ironic that we’re even complaining.

    Which is why I wonder if the complaints aren’t borne of a deeper issue or simply much ado about nothing.

  4. I guess I read in different places but a lot of the complaints I’ve seen actually go the other way — that Next is too old school and the 4E crowd isn’t happy about that…

    My reaction has really been a very pronounced, “so what?” I’ve realized that I just don’t care at all about D&D Next. There are already too many good games to play, and from the initial playtest nothing about Next is “Exciting.” Nothing makes me want to take away from other gaming to play Next. I don’t hate it — but it really doesn’t inspire me either. It’s just there. And that’s been my complaint. When you’re the flagship, when you’re the go-to game, you need to blow it away… and yes, yes, this is just the “first” playtest… but overwhelmingly, the best I can muster is a very sad, “meh.”

  5. Kevin says:

    I can appreciate that sentiment.

    My guess is the vitriolic backlash that WotC experienced from 4E has made them gun-shy. Better to make something less controversial and keep both significant sides of the edition equation happy than to go the road less traveled.

    There’s another blog post in there somewhere I think, “Did WotC take the easy route?”
    Maybe after the second play-test iteration we’ll know better.

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